Leaders: Bill Walker must resign

MSP Bill Walker. Picture: Neil HannaMSP Bill Walker. Picture: Neil Hanna
MSP Bill Walker. Picture: Neil Hanna
Bill Walker’s conviction at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday came not after some singular moment of recklessness or loss of self-control but after a sustained series of violent physical attacks over a 28-year period.

The independent MSP was found guilty of no less than 23 charges of assault involving his previous wives and a stepdaughter. As Sheriff Kathrine Mackie pointed out, the evidence revealed him to be “controlling, domineering, demeaning and belittling towards the three complainers”.

For the good of his constituency, for the reputation of parliament, and for assertion of the minimum standards of behaviour expected from elected representatives, he should now resign as an MSP. That he has not already done so only adds to the public revulsion over his behaviour.

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There was not a single mitigating circumstance in Walker’s defence. The court was told how his first wife was punched in the face and given a black eye in the run-up to their wedding day; his second wife was assaulted 15 times; and his third assaulted on four occasions, three of which involved slapping or punching her on the face. Walker was also found guilty of assaulting a step-daughter. Such vile behaviour is unacceptable from any person and warrants the full sanction of the law.

It may be argued that these were personal matters, with no bearing on his public persona or his duties as an MSP. But the very act of standing for parliament involves an appeal for endorsement as a fit and proper person to be a representative and, on that appeal, to secure public respect and trust. If you put yourself forward as a legislator the least the public expects is that you obey the law and that your behaviour towards your family does not breach it.

Cases of reckless and inexcusable behaviour by elected representatives in recent years have tried the patience of the public. These have ranged through the fire-raising of Mike Watson through innumerable expense account abuse and fiddles to Eric Joyce’s drunken brawl in a House of Commons bar. Unacceptable though these cases were, they pall before the sustained series of violent physical attacks on four women. Walker, who will be sentenced next month, was elected in 2011 as an SNP MSP for Dunfermline. He was suspended by the party after the allegations first surfaced and was expelled from the party in 2012. However, he has continued to sit as an independent MSP. As the law stands, he would only be disqualified as an MSP were he to be jailed for more than a year. The fact that someone convicted of such crimes is not automatically barred from sitting as an MSP starkly highlights that the rules are wrong.

His former partners want nothing more to do with him. Neither, it is fair to assume, do the voters of Dunfermline, his former party and Members of the Scottish Parliament of whatever persuasion. Bill Walker should resign his seat forthwith.

One man should not block truth

As if the continuing revelations of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church in Scotland were not enough, now comes a disclosure that Cardinal Keith O’Brien, formerly the Church’s most senior figure, blocked an independent inquiry on cases of historic sexual abuse. Mario Conti, the retired Archbishop of Glasgow, has now revealed that the inquiry proposal – to invite an independent academic to report on the “secret archives” of each diocese, how each bishop had handled the allegations, and publish the findings – had the support of every other bishop, but Cardinal O’Brien, the President of the Bishops’ Conference, refused to co-operate and the planned inquiry was shelved.

The disclosure cannot but fuel speculation that Cardinal O’Brien acted as he did for fear that his own behaviour would be unmasked.

He was forced to resign in March after admitting “inappropriate behaviour” with priests and a seminarian, and is currently in a period of “prayer and penance” ordered by Pope Francis.

It is a disturbing disclosure. Bishop Conti expresses the hope that publication of the audits would demonstrate the seriousness and competence with which the Church has been dealing with the scandals. But that confidence has been rather undermined by what has now been disclosed.

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It is deeply worrying that one person had the power to block an inquiry into matters of this magnitude and that this has only come to light now. It can only add support to those seeking a thorough reform of how the church operates and that limits should be placed on the power of one individual to thwart a search for the truth, however uncomfortable.

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